Yesterday, a voting poll on the Channel NewsAsia website ended. It was very interesting to observe how the votes had trended. If anyone remembers the Malaysian elections on 5 May 2013, welcome to Singapore’s very own version of the blackout!
But thankfully, unlike the elections, the results were displayed live and Singaporeans who hadn’t voted decided to come out in force to speak their minds.
The Talking Point Vote, as the poll is called, was hosted on the Channel NewsAsia website, and was conducted as part of the Talking Point talkshow. The question asked was, “Licensing News Sites: Will It Work? From 1 June, news websites will need a license to operate. The Media Development Authority (MDA) says it’s not a clampdown on cyberspace, but not everyone’s convinced. Will the rules be expanded in future? Will licensing news sites limit the content you will get online? Join the discussion on Talking Point: The Vote.”
The Vote was released on Saturday, 1 June 2013. When I had first taken the vote, 86.8% of the respondents had agreed that the licensing act would limit online news content (Figure 1).
On the second day, the respondents who agreed increased to 87.8% and even above 89% at one point (which I had not screenshot) (Figure 2)
On the third day, the proportion of respondents who agreed to the statement dropped by 4 percentage points to 83.4% of the respondents (Figure 3).
Yesterday – on the fourth day – just before the Talking Point show was about to start, the proportion of respondents who agreed fell dramatically to 51.2% (Figure 4).
This was a whooping 32% drop in the proportion of respondents who believed that the new licensing rule would limit online news content!
If you were to follow the voting trend from the start of the poll, from the first to second day of the poll, the proportion of respondents had remained at a similar proportion, and had even increased!
From the second to third day, there was only a 4% drop in the proportion of agreement to the statement.
Yet, from the third to fourth day, there was however a dramatic drop of 32%! I would like to hear a statistician share their opinions, and be aghast at the results.
Well, obviously many Singaporeans were flabbergasted! Within less than half an hour, the proportion of votes shot up from 51.2% to 64.5% – a 13% increase (Figure 5).
It then shot up further to 69% (Figure 6).
12 minutes before the vote was going to close, it reached a peak of 74% of the respondents who agreed that the licensing rule would limit online news content (Figure 7).
By the time the vote closed, 72.7% of the respondents had agreed to the statement (Figure 8) – a clear majority.
From a dramatic 32% fall in the proportion in one day to an equally incredible 20% increase within a short one hour – what was happening?
Well, Singaporeans, welcome to the Singapore’s very own blackout! Except that this time, Singaporeans fought back, and fought back hard!
Now, do you know why the government doesn’t want any polls to be conducted during the elections? This is exactly what would happen if Singaporeans are sufficiently informed – we would stand up for our rights and fight back.
Now, do you know why the government wants to impose the licensing rule on “online news sites”? If Singaporeans are informed of what was happening in Singapore and with other Singaporeans online, this is exactly what they would do – vote against the PAP.
But this poll isn’t the only survey to have shown what Singaporeans really believed in.
There are more than enough studies done on Singaporeans’ Internet usage which would give you an adequate understanding of how Singaporeans’ are actually not agreeable to this new “licensing rule”.
In a study, Project CRC Survey 2010 and commissioned, ironically, by the MDA, respondents were asked if they had thought that the current censorship controls were too strict. 43% or the majority of the respondents had agreed that the controls were “just right” – see last bar on right in Figure 9.
After omitting respondents who had indicated, “Don’t Know”, a clear majority of 64% of respondents had agreed that the controls were “just right” – see last bar on right in Figure 10.
In another survey conducted by the Blackbox research in 2012, it was surmised that “most Singaporeans do not support censorship” (Figure 11)
In fact, the majority of 48% of the respondents agreed that “news sources”, such as the Temasek Review Emeritus and The Online Citizen, which “are sometimes critical of the government”, should be “allowed to say what they like”.
Only 1% of the respondents had thought that these websites should be banned.
Which is why it is perplexing and clearly without basis why the government had decided to unreasonably introduce and make this ruling into this law, and not just that but within a few days of its introduction, to license “online news sites” and to require them to put up a performance bond of $50,000 and to take down their articles within 24 hours as the MDA deems fit.
Why did the MDA decide to impose this ruling if most Singaporeans had believed that the current censorship controls were “just right” and the majority “do not support censorship”?
Why did the MDA decide to ask sites to take down their articles when the majority of Singaporeans believe that sites should be “allowed to say what they like” and that only 1% had wanted these sites banned.
Why did the MDA impose a ruling which does not abide by the will of the majority and create a ruling that was adjusted for only the 1% of Singaporeans who would want to ban these sites?
Who is this 1%?
But why does the government want to impose this new ruling?
The answer can be found in a paper by the Nanyang Technological University which details the findings from the Singapore Internet Project 2007. It was found that the majority, or 44.2% of respondents had agreed that “by using the Internet,” they were better able to “understand politics” (Table 1).
Also, the majority or 38.5% believed that with the Internet, “public officials will care more” about what they would think.
This is why the government had created this new ruling, isn’t it? Over the past few months, the government had felt compelled to “care about” what Singaporeans are thinking because Singaporeans are now better able to “understand politics”, and truth be told, the government finds this a bugbear.
More importantly, the survey had also found that, 71.8% of the respondents had thought that the Internet was an important source of information (Table 2). This is as compared to a lower 67.7% of respondents who had thought that the newspapers were an important source.
The Internet was taking over the newspapers!
Clearly, the government had to take the Internet out before, they believed, the Internet would take them out.
Yesterday’s poll on Talking Point The Vote is a micro-representation of what exactly would befall the government if they did not regulate the Internet and control the flow of information that they believe is not to their advantage.
Last Friday, it was reported that the MDA had said that, “An individual publishing views on current affairs and trends on his personal website or blog does not amount to news reporting”.
However, in yesterday’s Talking Point, Minister of Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin – (we still have no clue why he was on the show at all!) – had said that, “The regulations deal with news sites. It doesn’t encompass blogs but would some blogs become news sites, and if they evolve to become news sites, I think that is something that we need to look at. As a broad principle, it is meant to cover those reporting news. Individual blogs, commentaries — that remains open.”
Which effectively means – hi guys, you know what, we were pulling a fast one. After all that public relations, we are still going to clamp down on you.
And so, Minister for Communications and Information Dr Yaacob Ibrahim had said that, “I think the best way is for people to see, after the licenses are issued, whether the activists are indeed limited in their public discourse.”
Well, I wouldn’t bet on this – at all. As long as the ruling is loosely framed, the government could always come back and tell us – “that remains open”.
If you want to try your luck and let the government impose this ruling and believe that they wouldn’t use it against us, when in fact, everything “remains open”, you can try your luck. But I wouldn’t.
Yaacob had also said that, “Nowhere do the guidelines state that news sites cannot question or highlight the shortcomings of government policies, as long as the assessments are well intentioned, and not based on factual inaccuracies with the intention to mislead the public.”
But – nowhere do the guidelines state specifically what “online news sites” are, which they are specifically, and what their exact numbers of unique visitors are. And nowhere do the guidelines state explicitly that “highlighting the shortcomings of government policies” would be protected. Do you remember the defamation law suits against opposition politicians and politicians who were made bankrupt? And the government says that we can be allowed to highlight the shortcomings of government policies? Really?
Remember the boy who cried wolf?
I am not going to take my chances. I know many Singaporeans who are not willing to take the chance as well. If you remember the history of how the Singapore’s media had been systematically silenced in the past, you would know that this licensing rule is only the start of a systematic silencing that would come.
This Saturday, a group of online websites and bloggers, including this blog, The Heart Truths, and collectively known as #FreeMyInternet, would be organising a protest to demand the retraction of the licensing rule by the government.
The protest would be held at the following:
Date: 8 June 2013, Saturday
Time: 4.00pm to 7.00pm
Venue: Hong Lim Park
To protect our right to read as wide a variety of news as we can, so that we can make informed decisions about our lives, and so that we are able to be discerning in our own right, it is in the interest of Singaporeans to come down to Hong Lim Park on this Saturday to join the protest. Our right to know and think, and more importantly, our independence, must be guarded and protected at all times.
You can join the Facebook event page at:
You can also sign the petition here:
As of today, almost 2,500 people have already signed the petition.
I had also invited Mr Tan Chuan-Jin to attend the protest and to sign the petition. However, he shared that he has a meeting and wouldn’t be able to attend.
I did share with him that we would update him on how the event would turn out. So, come along, ask your family and friends, and let’s go to Hong Lim Park to take a stand to protect our independence and what is ours.
Let me give him a report that Singaporeans can be proud of.